Multi-use Pathway


The multi-use pathway on the National Elk Refuge is part of a larger network of trails constructed and maintained by Jackson Hole Community Pathways of Teton County. The five-mile segment of the pathway located on the refuge runs from just north of the visitor center at Flat Creek to the Gros Ventre River.

Construction of the multi-use pathway was completed in 2011, with an opening date of May 1 of that same year. The project required a compatibility determination, a process necessary per the National Wildlife Refuge Improvement Act to evaluate the proposed use of refuge lands as a wildlife-dependent recreational use.

Unlike neighboring national park and forest lands, the refuge is guided by the US Fish & Wildlife Service's mission specific to habitat and wildlife management. Recreational uses may be allowed if they do not interfere with the purposes for which the refuge was established, but succinctly stated, it's "wildlife first" when it comes to considering recreational opportunities on Service lands. Generally, recreational uses on refuges include hunting, fishing, photography, wildlife viewing, interpretation, and environmental education because they minimize disturbances to wildlife and promote the Service's mission. In the case of hunting and fishing, the activities may be used as important management tools to reduce populations or remove non-native species.

To reduce conflicts with migrating or wintering animals and to remain aligned to the Service's mission, an annual seasonal closure is in place from November 1 through April 30. A seasonal closure was a key condition of the agreement between Teton County and the National Elk Refuge for pathway use on U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service property. Another alternative identified during the planning process called for locating the pathway on the west side of the highway with fewer restrictions, but public comment supported the east side placement despite the seasonal closure.

Since the pathway opened, biologists have collected GPS elk collar data and conducted weekly elk counts on the area south of the Gros Ventre Hills during both the spring and fall migration periods. Using both the GPS information and other tools such as motion-detecting trail cameras, wildlife managers have determined that peak spring elk movements occur during the second and third weeks of April. In the fall, the main segment of the Jackson Elk Herd that crosses the pathway comes from Spring Gulch and the southern area of Grand Teton National Park. The refuge retains the authority to enact emergency closures during both the spring and fall seasons to mitigate for wildlife considerations. 

Regardless of the seasonal closure, residents and visitors to the Jackson Hole valley have a stunning addition to the pathway system for most of the cycling season. 

Due to the high-volume of traffic using the visitor center, pathway users should note that parking spaces at the visitor center are restricted to short-term visitor center users only.